Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sayulita: Our Mexican Vacation Part II

I think it's interesting that it's taken Sarah and I this long to get around to blogging about our Mexico trip. Back when we were on our big trip, years ago, we blogged nearly daily. I think that's less a comment on this trip itself, but more about our lives outside of this trip. With both of us being busy with work, wrangling Stella and managing the basement remodel, it's a lot harder to find time to type up an entry like this. And, when we do have the time, the energy is often lacking.

Anyhow, it's a slow work day, so here goes...

As Sarah mentioned in her entry, Yelapa was stunning. But, after a few days of life eating the same meals on the same beautiful beach, I think we were all getting a little antsy to catch the boat back to Puerto Vallarta, and head on to our second destination: Sayulita.

So, when we awoke on the morning of our fifth day in Mexico, we quickly began gathering our stuff, and headed down to have one last breakfast on the beach. Stella, cheerfully oblivious of the coming journey, took her time ignoring her breakfast, and fixating -as always- on the array of dogs which roamed freely around the "all dogs must be leashed" sign. Meanwhile, I found myself becoming increasingly, and unexpectedly tense. Basically, there were three morning water taxi's: 8:00, 9:30 and 10:30. After that, it was siesta time till the next taxi arrived at 3:00. As much as I had enjoyed Yelapa, I didn't want to miss that 10:30 taxi.

Finishing up lunch, we returned to our room, and then Sarah headed down to the office to settle up our bill, leaving me to finish up the last bit of packing. It was about 10:15, and though a small grip of people had amassed at the end of the small pier near our hotel, we figured we were doing fine time-wise. Then, I looked again, and noticed that a water taxi had arrived, and the people were loading into it! Running out onto our front deck, I shouted "wait!" as the taxi began to pull from the dock. The people on board heard me, and killed the engine.

Desperately, I looked around me: Big backpack? On my back! Medium backpack? On my front. Small backpack? Over one shoulder. Two other loose bags? Over the other shoulder. Stella? Well, at first I tried to coax her to "follow daddy?" But, that just led to panicked "wo mommy go?" So, ooof, I scooped her up in my arms, and began lumbering down the stairs toward the pier. Reaching the beachfront walkway, I looked up again... just in time to see the taxi fire up its motor again, and pull away. "Wait!" I collapsed at the end of the pier, as the boat disappeared around the corner of the bay.

When Sarah arrived on the pier a few minutes later, she found (despite the clear blue skies overhead) a distinct, dark raincloud hanging over my head. Stella, meanwhile, had discovered that the pier was crawling with dark medium sized crabs, which she watched with something halfway between fear and joy. The next 15 minutes were spent with Sarah and I trying to decide if, as I maintained, we'd missed the 10:30 taxi, or if, as she maintained, that was another taxi, and the 10:30 was still on its way.

Then, we boarded the 10:30 water taxi.

The taxi ride to Puerto Vallarta went smoothly. The waters weren't very choppy, and Stella even seemed to be warming to the experience. As we approached the beach, we could see that the pier the taxi usually docked with was under repair, and that boats were simply pulling directly onto the beach, and unloading onto the sand. Easy-breezy, right?

So, our boat pulls up to the beach and... Bam! A big wave hits. Now, as you might be able to see from the photo Sarah posted in the previous entry, these boats aren't too big. Maybe, like, 10 or 15 feet long, with six rows of benches. I'm sitting the second row from the front, with Stella on my lap. Sarah is in the front row, with one or two other people, and one of the guys running the water taxi is sitting on top of a pile of luggage in front of her. The boats actually turned around, and beached with the tail end in the sand. So, when this sort of freak wave hits, it basically pounds our luggage, crashes in over our heads and fills the inside of the boat with water up to knee level.

"Everyone out!" Someone shouts. "Another wave, soon!"

Suddenly, I'm faced with a dilemma: Do I focus on getting a scared and screaming Stella off the boat? Go try to help my pregnant wife? Try to save our luggage? Quickly, I make me way to the end of the boat, and pass Stella down to some random person standing on the shore. Leap out myself, and then turn to try to help Sarah down and grab our bags, which are basically being hurled overhead onto the sand.

30 seconds later, everyone is standing on the beach, surrounded by soggy backpacks, and watching the crew work to bail water out of their boats. Meanwhile, the beachfront jewelry hawkers circle warily, trying to decide if now would be the correct time to try to sell us a bracelet. Stella, regaining her composure after the initial surprise, begins explaining to us what just happened: "Big wave! Little scary. Cry." It's a story she'll repeat to this day, if you ask her about it.

Remembering that our Yelapa hotel has an office near the pier, we make our way there, where the man working at the office turns out to be a godsend: He let's us in, allows us to clean out our bags, use the restroom to change clothes and freshen up, even gets us a refund from the water taxi, and helps arrange a cab on to Sayulita. Our stuff though? Soaked. Clothes? Wet. Books and magazine? Dripping. Portable DVD player we borrowed from one of Sarah's coworkers? Destroyed and smoking. Electric baby monitors? Fried. Camera? Well, already dead, but still.

A short time and many "Gracias" to the hotel office employee later, we are in our cab and off to Sayulita. Initially, we'd planned on taking the public bus to save money to get out there, but having filled our adventure quota with the soggy disembarkation, we decide to splurge on the ease and luxury of the cab.

The ride is quick and -thankfully- uneventful, and soon our nice cab driver is dropping us off in Sayulita's main square. And, only minutes later, a real estate agent is escorting us to the Casa we've rented for the next couple of days: Casa Sorpresa!

The front courtyard of Casa Sorpresa. I was excited about this place when I reserved it, and was happy that it exceeded expectations. We had this whole courtyard, with the pool, an outside sitting area, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a back courtyard all to ourselves. In comparisons to most places we stayed when we've traveled in the past, this was palatial.

Mine and Sarah's bedroom. Stella had her own room, though she'd usually end up sleeping on (and falling off) the couch in our bedroom.

The back courtyard. A large lizard seemed to live on the roof of our casa, and we'd sometimes see him circling on the courtyard walls.

The front gate, which featured the places one hiccup... the street was being repaved. So, entering and leaving involved, as Stella noted, a "big step!"

Settling in to our new home-away-from-home (or the "new house" as Stella dubs it), we also quickly settle into our new routine: Mornings are spent relaxing at the Casa, including maybe a dip in the pool. Lunch at a restaurant, often our favorite taco place: Fish Taco (though, oddly, of their 6 tacos, only one is fish). Maybe some time on the beach. A siesta for Stella in the afternoon, while Sarah and I relax, maybe take another dip in the pool, read and I enjoy a Pacifico or two. Then wandering around trying to pick a dinner place. And watching sunset on the beach.

Pretty rough, I tell ya.

The view from inside of "Fish Taco." Watching a team of men thatch a roof.

Lounging in the pool.

Sayulita was apparently, originally, a sleepy fishing village, that turned into a sleepy surf town... and is now on its way to becoming a small tourist town. Still, while the main beach is now lined with beach chairs and umbrellas, and a number of shops selling tourist tchotchkes is increasing (Che handbag, anyone?) it still retains its small town charm. It's definitely more active than Yelapa, which at this point in our vacation wasn't a bad thing.

Highlights come scatter-shot over the next few days, and its hard to recall what happened first. One night, we end up sitting and eating popsicles from the Wa Kiki ice cream shop (definitely recommended) in the town square, surrounded by locals and tourists talking and laughing, and are reminded of our time hanging out in similar town squares in South America. Another morning it spent on the beach, relaxing, enjoying splashing in the surf and trying to coax Stella to come down near the water (which is still deemed "too loud"). Dinner at a Cuban restaurant proves to be fun, with Stella enjoying the live music and the orange sauce our all-you-can-eat chicken come drizzled in. And sunsets, with Sarah and I siting on the beach, and Stella collecting rocks and bottle caps around us, are always a highlight.

Sarah and Stella relaxing on the beach.

Playing with Stella on the beach, this was about the closest she ever willingly came to the ocean.

We need to figure out what these are called. Basically, they were like Cheetos (minus the cheese), and the vendor would drizzle hot sauce and fresh lime over them. We all agreed they were a super-tasty snack.

Stella and Sarah in the Cuban restaurant. This photo is a bit Lynchian, but it was a good time... honest!

Enjoying another Sayulita sunset.

...the sunset in question.

All in all it's a wonderful time.

But, honestly, there are challenges too. One day seems to be dominated by Stella either wetting herself in public, or asking to be taken back to the Casa to use her little potty we've brought along. Then there's our first trip to the little market across from our Casa. While Sarah and I gather groceries, Stella plops herself down on a rocking chair in front of a TV... and then wets herself, a pool of her pee forming on the market floor under the chair. Sarah hurries Stella back across the street, while I grab a mop and start sopping up the mess. Then, returning to shopping, I manage to drop and egg on the floor. So, out comes the mop again... except, this time, I manage to knock over the pail of mop-water while mopping... spilling it all over the market floor. "Don't worry about it," the woman behind the counter says, with a less-than-impressed look on her face.

But, often even the challenges end up having positive spins. One night, dragging a screaming and wet-pants Stella back to the Casa, we pass a brass band playing amazing music in a courtyard near our house. Back in the Casa's own courtyard, we clean Stella up and then decide to take an evening dip in the pool. My frustration melting away as we play in the water with the sound of the band drifting in over our courtyard walls.

On our second to last day, we arrange a cab ride to the neighboring town of San Pancho. Pulling up to the little main square, which also serves as the entrance to the beach, we are delighted to find what appears to be a smaller, sleepier and nearly abandoned-seeming version of Sayulita. The narrow green streets are deserted and not more than one or two people lounge on the beach. Perfect.

Perfect. And, apparently, abandoned.

...So, promptly, we organize a Death March.

"Hmmm, I wonder what the big white building is over there? Looks like maybe some sort of church, or something." So, off we go, through town to try to find out how to get to it and see what it is. Unfortunately, this ends up involving a long, hot, winding slog up a gradual, wide boulevard... taking turns carrying Stella. The church? Ends up being some sort of exclusive resort. So, its back into town. Though, thankfully we find a way to walk back on the beach.

The objective of our Death March. Not a church.

After enjoying a drink on the beach, and letting Stella check out a monkey living in a depressing cage near the bar, we meet up with our cab driver and head back to Sayulita.

The next morning, it's back to the States. We catch the public bus home, which ends up being both 1)a much longer ride and 2)a much cheaper one. The flights home are long, but go smoothly, despite Stella not having the DVD player to keep her occupied. And, around 10pm, we are back in Seattle again.


ambika said...

It sounds heavenly, despite death marches and wet pants. & I personally love the Lynchian photo but maybe that's 'cause I'm weird.

The General said...

Yeah, after I took that photo, I even announced, "this might be my favorite photo from this trip, yet." Though, admittedly, I also like Sarah's empty San Pedro beach photo... which has a certain Edward Hopper feel to it.

Charity said...

Oh gosh, I was laughing out loud!! It sounds like a great trip overall and definitely an adventure I'm not sure a lot of people would undertake with a toddler, but you guys make it sound fun and fairly easy (minus a few emergency pants moments..and big scary waves)! :)

Emily said...

Your paragraph about the pee, egg and spilled bucket of water had me laughing out loud! I'm glad you had a pool at your home away from home so you could go back and relax! I'm so impressed with how adventurous you guys and this will create great and funny memories for Stella!

Christine said...

Hello! I came across your post while googling for some first-hand reviews of Sayulita. Thanks for the very thorough review! I'm thinking of visiting for 3 days in March. Would you recommend it for that amound of time? Have you been to any other beaches in Mexico / the Caribbean that you might be able to compare it to? I know I am going to sound obnoxious now... but I'm very particular about the 'beach vibe' of my vacations, so I'm wondering what kind of vibe Sayulita had! Thanks!

The General said...

Hi Christine, thanks for commenting!

Sarah and I actually haven't been to too many other beaches in Mexico or the Caribbean. Just Yelapa (which we went to during this same trip - see the entry before this) and Port Antonio, Jamaica, years and years ago (which was definitely a different vibe).

Sayulita is a small town, but it does have a definite beach vibe, with rustic restaurants on the beach, rental chairs and swimmers and surfers to watch. (Though not much in the way of snorkeling, if I remember correctly). Good sunsets and -if you like things a little more quiet- you can move farther up the beach and spread out a town.

I think we were there 4 (or 5?) nights, which was plenty for us. Three nights should be fine, if you are looking for a quick escape. The drive there is 1 or 2 hours by cab or bus from Puerto Vallarta (where I'm presuming you'll fly in), so you won't spend all your time getting there or away.

If you want to see more photos from our trip, you can see them in the second half of this photo set:

Let me know if you have additional questions!